Home

French philospher and superstar of atheism Michel Onfray’s (Onfray 2007) movement of evangelical secularism depends on a moral mathematics of risk society. At its most extreme it advocates a form of instrumentalist social atomism and radical anthropocentrism.

Onfray refers to the influential writings of Nietzsche, who combines philosophy with a searing aesthetic to unsettle 19th century ethics, ethos and morals. Nietzsche work is permeated with a heightened moral relativism where individuals are free to choose their own virtues and vices subjectively and interchangeably. But Nietzsche’s avatar Zarathustra is not advocating a new religion. He is following in the Enlightenment tradition wherein the modern individual perceives religion to be pitiably self-delusional and comfortable. And I never forget that Nietzsche wrote against a late 19th century backdrop of a distorted form of Christian/utilitarianism driving unfettered destructive colonial expansion.

These masters of today- surpass them, O my brethren- these petty
people: they are the Superman’s greatest danger!
Surpass, ye higher men, the petty virtues, the petty policy, the
sand-grain considerateness, the ant-hill trumpery, the pitiable
comfortableness, the “happiness of the greatest number”-!
And rather despair than submit yourselves. And verily, I love you,
because ye know not today how to live, ye higher men! For thus do ye
live- best! (Nietzsche 1892)

The brilliance of the canonical writing of Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Foucault, Deleuze and even Derrida, is not enough to provide incentive to transform inner ethical orientations or to change outward moral behaviour. Marx was not a Marxist. Derrida himself deconstructed the Author. These leaders of thought provide useful concepts and robust arguments but not comprehensive systems intended for universal adoption. Their space-time dependent oeuvre never claimed to provide comprehensive manifestos with an ethos, code of ethics and a will for social change under accidental temporal and spatial conditions.

Moral orientation imposed through legislation and education aims at protecting current and dominant (not necessarily democratic) concerns of society. Such ordinances and curriculum are necessary in a civil society but they provide at most a minimalist state protection for those at-risk of social exclusion. At their worst the algorithms of moral mathematics ensure a legal and civil method to heighten the vulnerability of the most vulnerable. See Foucault on crime, punishment and discipline.

Nietzsche’s concept of authenticity which is a form of self-making in the register of the aesthetic is incompatible with that form of imposed morality, the Christian-inspired ethic of charity for the Other crushes an individual’s elemental, instinctive and powerful desires (Taylor 1991:65).

In contrast the inner ethical orientations ( BIC 2006 ) of moderate civil religion relevant to social, historical, economic and political context are constituted by a concept of faith as conscious knowledge expressed in action (‘Abdu’l-Baha 1915:549) combined with an an ethos of caring and mutual trust. This concept of faith is held in tension by the use of the faculty of reason to prevent fanaticism and superstition. First it is to know and then to do (‘Abdu’l-Baha 1915:549).

Taylor (1991:10) describes the fading of moral horizons, the loss of meaning, the eclipse of ends, rampant instrumental reason and the loss of freedoms as all part of the malaise of modernity. He cautions that atomist and instrumentalist approaches promote a debased and shallow form of authenticity (1991:120).

keywords: moral mathematics, consequentialism vs deontology, 

Webliography and Bibliography

‘Abdu’l-Baha. 1915. Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Baha.

Bahá’í International Community (BIC). 2006. “A New Vision for Humanity’s Future.

Colbert, Stephen. 2007. Unquisition. May 3.

Derrida (1990) in Le droit à la philosophie du point de vue cosmopolitique.

Etzioni, Amitai. 2007a.”The West Needs a Spiritual Surge” >> Amitai Etzioni Notes. March 6, 2007.

Etzioni, Amitai. 2007b. L’Occident aussi a besoin d’un renouveau spirituel.” Le Monde. 7 avril.

Hitchens, Christopher. 2007. God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Twelve/Warner Books.

Higgins, Andrew. 2007. As religious strife grows, atheists seize pulpit.” Northwest Herald. >> nwherald.com. April 13.

Kinsley, Michael. 2007. “In God, Distrust.” Sunday Book Review. New York Times. May 13.

Lacroix, Alexandre, Truong, Nicolas. 2007. “Nicolas Sarkozy et Michel Onfray: Confidences entre Ennemis.” Philosophie Mag. No. 8. >> Philomag.com

Onfray, Michel. 2007. Atheist Manifesto: The Case Against Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1892. Thus Spake Zarathustra. Trans. Common, Thomas.Taylor, Charles. The Malaise of Modernity. Concord, Ontario: House of Anansi Press.


Why are genetics, neuroscience and evolution perceived as corrosive to notions of free will, personal responsibility and the possibility of negotiating a universal code of ethical values1? Steven Pinker (2002) brilliantly unveils a history of major debates on issues that have become increasingly strident.

Pinker reveals the underlying fear of a religious and secular nihilism engendered by materialist theories of consciousness in which the mind emerges solely from the forces of living matter2. Pinker concedes that ‘debating the Pope [on the ontological leap about the existence of the human soul, the higher purpose of knowledge and love of God] is the ultimate exercise in futility’ (Pinker 2002:187). But Pinker’s argument is that the theory that the mind is purely a physical organ is as humane as the doctrine of the immortal soul. In fact Pinker continues, the doctrine of the immortal soul and the reward of life after death, devalues life on earth (Pinker 2002:189).

Picture this, an exiled, persecuted Persian spiritual leader, invited to speak to distinguished audiences in London, Paris, New York . . . to respond to divergent philosophies that had emerged during his decades of imprisonment. In 1911 after strolling through the Trocadero Gardens near the Eiffel Tower he shared his thoughts on the relationship between mind, body and spirit. He acknowledged the way in which the terminology of soul, mind and spirit differed between the ancient and modern philosophers. The ancient philosophers used the term ‘soul’ as sensations of emotion as a function of the reality. The concept of ‘mind’ was used to describe the power that discussed the reality of phenomena. The concept of ‘spirit’ was used to discuss ‘consciousness’.

Abdul-Baha (1911) offered an alternative to the way in which philosophers described the relationship between body, mind, soul and spirit. He described how the mind as a faculty is a power superior to the soul because through the mind man can investigate the reality of every phenomena. The spirit is a third power differentiated from the soul and the mind. This third power, the spirit, involves an ontological leap of faith and cannot be deduced from a purely rational, scientific investigation of material phenomena. The soul is the motive power of the physical body, the intermediary between the body and the spirit. But it is the mind that can investigate the nature of reality choosing rationally to either open the soul to the spirit or to focus completely on the embodied self dependent on material comforts and needs. Each individual is called to use her rational mind and intellect to investigate truth individually. According to Abdul-Baha, those who choose to live in an entirely material world without need for spiritual qualities risk a weakening and eventual atrophy of the soul.

Pinker replaces the concept of ‘spirit’ with ‘consciousness’ and rejects the concept of the immortal soul leaving us with a mortal brain and a mind dependent on and emanating from purely material living matter. He argues that the “doctrine of a soul that outlives the body is anything but righteous, because it devalues the lives we live on this earth.” (Pinker 2002:189) He argues that it is more humane to use the sciences of physiology and genetics to alleviate suffering from Alzheimer’s and major depression than to rely on the ontological leap of spiritual souls based on the premise that thought and emotion are manifestations of an immaterial soul. What Abdul-Baha is saying is that we don’t need to choose between the two. Science will provide cures for those aspects of mental illness caused by purely physical, physiological or genetic manifestations in the body. But how many of us seriously believe that science will provide answers for existential crises? And what about the ethical and historical relationship between incidents of suicides and the structural, political, economic realities that engendered unhealthy environments in which certain groups of people are socially excluded and at heightened risk for mental collapse? Despair is not a state of consciousness, brain or mind but of the human spirit.

The dilemma lies then with the ethical topography of self and the other to which Pinker responds convincingly. This intrigues me. How far can we go towards a set of universal values within an entirely materialist framework? Or how humane is human nature when disengaged from a higher form of consciousness called the spiritual?

Belief that a purely materialist view that human nature, body with consciousness but not spirit, will lead to a more humane world, a golden age of understanding human nature, resonates with the belief that the science of economics with its dogma of free trade will provide the solution to the extremes of wealth and poverty.

Bibliography

Abdul-Baha. 1911. Causeries d’Abdu’l Baha à Paris (Les ). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paris_Talks

Abdul-Baha. 1911. “Concerning Body, Soul and Spirit.” Paris Talks.

Bergson, Henri. 1907. Creative Evolution (L’Evolution créatrice).

Bergson, Henri. 1932. The Two Sources of Morality and Religion (Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion).

Ferguson, A. 1999. “The End of Nature and the Next Man: Review of E. Fukuyama’s The Great Disruption.” Weekly Standard. January 12.

Gould, S. J. 1976. “Criminal Man Revived.” Natural History. 85:10-21.

Kass, L. 1997. “The End of Courtship.” Public Interest. 126. Winter.

Lewis, C. S. 2002. [1952]. “Mere Christianity.” in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: Harper Collins.

Pinker, Steven. 2002. The Blank Slate: the Modern Denial of Human Nature. New York: Penguin.

Rose, S. 1978. “Pre-Copernican Sociobiology?” New Scientist. 80:45-6.

Wolfe, Tom. 1996. “Sorry but your Soul Just Died.” Forbes ASAP. December 2.

Wolfe, Tom. 2000. “Sorry but your Soul Just Died.” Ellipses.

Footnotes:

1 Pinker cites partisans on the political left and right (Rose, Gould, Kass, Wolfe and Ferguson) who ironically are in agreement that the ‘new sciences of human nature threaten the concept of moral responsibility’ (Pinker 2002:132-3).

2 Pinker’s materialist view of human nature is part of a vast spectrum of materialist theories that are as numerous as divergent religious views. Henri Bergson’s (1859-1941) who enjoyed a cult-like status in his lifetime presented his view of Creative Evolution, Emergent Evolution, the Life-Force through the concept of un esprit vital, which vivified the entire universe with purposeful life. In Creative Evolution (1907) Bergson integrated findings of biological science with a theory of consciousness. According to some readings of the theory of Creative Evolution, Bergson denied the existence of the God of static religion but accepted that some force provided the impetus so that lowest forms evolved purposefully into the more perfected form of Man. (In 1914 the Roman Catholic Church, placed Bergson’s books on the Index of prohibited books. Bergson’s theories were in opposition to Catholic dogma as defined by the 13th century Catholic scholar Thomas Aquinas). C. S. Lewis (2002:31-2 [1952]) argued that this Life-Force was really a tame version of God and an open dynamic inclusive religion without the discomfort of moral consequences of rigid Kantian moral imperatives. (Lewis suggests Bernard Shaw as a source of the wittiest version of Creative Evolution.) Bergson’s ideas and the man himself became an object of ridicule to the next generation of French Marxist humanist intellectuals, like Henri Lefebvre (1901-1991) although Merleau-Ponty, Sartre, and Lévinas acknowledged his influence on their thought. Gilles Deleuze’s (1966) Bergsonism realizing the enduring contribution of Bergson’s concept of multiplicity, revitalized his work. Since the 1990s there has been an increased interest in Bergson’s thought.

© 2007 Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Can science bring us into a golden age of understanding human nature? (Pinker 2002)” > Speechless. April 26. http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=ddp3qxmz_219dwbrzk

Nihilist chewing gum

January 12, 2007


Nihilist Chewing GumOne of my daughters-in-law took me out for lunch, bought me clothes and sent me home with a surprise lobster for dinner. My new daughter-in-law phoned me last night and between guffaws of laughter told me she was sending me some nihilist chewing gum. It is black and has absolutely no flavour because we don’t believe in flavour.

Frankly I can’t wait until she calls me today to see what she will come up with next! We spent a week together over the holidays. The weather was bad, my son was sick with the flu. She kept us in stitches the whole time. She made us all do an online personality test. I almost matched her with the colour orange but she is really pure gold. That wasn’t one of the colours listed.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have told her I was a nihilist since it is not for everyone. She is at the opposite end of the spectrum! It’s hard to imagine someone who says they believe in God having anything in common with Nietszche.

If every nihilist had a golden daughter-in-law the world would be a better place, that is if there is a future . . .

Nietzschean diet: eat whatever you fear most

New Nietzschean Diet Lets You Eat Whatever You Fear Most

The Onion
New Nietzschean Diet Lets You Eat Whatever You Fear Most

NEW YORK- By conquering your Fear and eating it in Heroic Portions, one can avoid the Eternal Occurrence of weight gain.